India’s development trajectory is marked by growing economic prosperity but high inequality, which often exacerbates the existing rural–urban divide. One of the current policy instruments to address this divide is the National Rurban Mission, which aims to improve infrastructure and service provision, facilitate regional development and attract investment in rural areas. Against the backdrop of growing rural unrest on one hand and emerging evidence of unsustainable development in the urban on the other, we examine the National Rural Mission and its discursive underpinnings. We find that while the mission and its stated aims are a promising step to improve regional development, its focus on ‘smart villages’ and seeing urbanisation as the only development model, undermines the strengths and challenges in rural India. We highlight ways in which the mission can avoid some past pitfalls of development interventions in India while strengthening its mandate of facilitating inclusive regional development.